When Bad is Good & Avoiding Awkward Conversations

I’m evidently on to something with the posts I recently published about silly American words and British expressions that Americans find amusing. It’s fascinating – even academically and culturally intriguing – how deeply words separate us Brits and you Yanks. Having studied semantics and etymology, I’m captivated by this language that both unites and distinguishes us.

So, when I recently had to ask a colleague what “sucking wind” meant, I knew it was time to relay some of those cross-cultural phrases with opposing meanings. Hopefully these will help you avoid some awkward conversations.

The following American words all mean GOOD: bad, wicked, doesn’t suck, the bomb, kill it.

Ex: “That was a wicked fun evening; your friend is the bomb.”   “Don’t worry, we’ll kill those goals.”

At this point, I also feel obliged to explain the nuanced distinction between the use of the word “quite” in American English and English English. This is important as the culturally correct use could definitely improve relations with your partner/spouse.

Ex 1: (in the U.S.)

Q: “Honey, how do I look in this dress?”

A: “Quite nice.”

Q: “Thanks, sweetheart – you look nice too!”

Ex 2: (in the U.K.)

Q: “Honey, how do I look in this dress?”

A: “Quite nice.”

Q: “Huh, only quite? What’s wrong with it? Does it make me look fat? Why don’t you like it?”

For those who didn’t catch it, the U.S. “quite” is a compliment whereas the U.K.’s “quite” means “only a little.”

You can thank me later for this important lesson. And I do hope you think this post doesn’t suck wind.

Leave a comment


  1. You might be interested in this: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2008/07/quite.html (and its predecessor, http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2007/05/quite-wh.html).

    And if you think ‘wicked’ doesn’t mean good in British English, you’ve not been hanging around with young enough British English speakers! But the difference is that the use you exemplify above (which is at its heart a Boston usage) is an adverb, used to positively intensify an adjective, whereas in the slang usage of my British students, it’s an adjective used on its own to mean ‘good’. (Looks like I’ve mentioned that one on the blog too!)

    • Thanks for the comment and I’ll definitely checkout those two posts. I do admit that I’ve been in the US long enough now that maybe I’m not as up-to-date with current trendy Englishisms (note to self: say wicked more when next in London.)

  2. Anita

     /  January 4, 2012

    LOL!! Actually “wicked” is an Eastern Mass/Boston thing. Western MA, VT, NH, RI and ME will join the rest of the US in looking at you funny when you use that one. 🙂

    ‘Quite’ interesting! No really…it’s good!! 😉

  3. It’s the bomb!

  4. sarah.tourville@mediafrenzy.uk.com

     /  April 12, 2012

    Ignore last question! It now all makes a lot more sense and means I should start giving my husband a break. He is being nice after all


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